I’m going to start by saying I don’t know the first thing about exercise. I’ve never done it. I would say aside from Physical Education in high school, but I never considered that anything other than torture in the form of Jazzercise. Now, I may look skinny, but don’t let my size fool you–none of it is by design. I eat copious amounts of junk food, I have little portion control, and I can’t even run two minutes without my legs seizing. When I worked as a dog bather, I was at least getting a little bit of exercise done–I biked to work every day three miles from my apartment, and picking up large, struggling dogs constantly really did a number for my arm strength–but I haven’t had that job for about eight months now, and the fast food industry is hardly physically demanding.
Needless to say, I’m not fit at all, but I was surprised by how weak I really was when I started seriously working out. This leads me to my first point…
#1 Get stronger
This is kind of a no-brainer, but in case it wasn’t already a given, I thought I’d include it. When traveling abroad, the automatic inclination is to take in all of the sights, which usually involves walking or hiking to your destination. If you’re only going to be traveling for a short while, or you don’t expect you’ll be walking around all that much (why the hell not?) then perhaps you don’t need to beef up in preparation, but even a little bit here and there is never a bad idea.
“High-impact, dynamic, multi-directional activities result in greater gains in bone strength.”
–Associate professor at University of Missouri
Walking everywhere within a five mile radius of your home is a great way to start, but running–a high-impact, dynamic activity–is even better. Of course I’m not talking about jumping into an intensive training program straight away–exactly the opposite really. When I started–only about a week ago–I was trying out a workout I found online, and it proved too difficult (I couldn’t even do two lady push-ups, what was I thinking?) so I scaled it down considerably to match my level without sacrificing much. My muscles ache, but at least I can do five regular push-ups now!
#2 Get healthy
Just as obvious as the point above, exercise helps your body. It helps your immune system fight off diseases, reduces pain, and strangely keeps your eyes hale as well.
Men who logged more than 5.7 miles per day had a 35 percent lower risk [of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration] than those that ran less than 1.4 miles per day.
-Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science Study
Of course, anything this good has a chance to stave off cancer as well! However, that’s no reason to go crazy about exercise (I know you’ve stopped reading long ago and are already pushing out 100 crunches, I’m just that persuasive). According to even more research, too much exercise will suppress your immune system rather than help it, which is why you shouldn’t buy into those “get buff quick” schemes.
For instance, someone who ran a marathon is more likely to develop a cold afterward than someone who trained for the marathon but didn’t run it
–a 2007 article in Clinics in Sports Medicine
So, in other words, start slow–by the time you get to Indonesia, your bomb-ass white blood cells will be busy kicking Malaria’s ass and schmoozing it up with all the hot lady-cells.
#3 More energy
I can attest to this point personally. When I was working for Petco, biking six miles every workday–thirty minutes of exercise each way–I was more energetic and productive for a good 3 hours afterward. I know this is not just my normal exuberance–on days when I was driven to work, it felt like I had never woken up. The daily bike ride was my coffee fix, and I was sluggish and cranky when I didn’t do it. I still bike to work now, but it’s only a ten minute ride, so I’m not bouncing off the walls as soon as I arrive.
In fact, right now I’m riding an exercise high while I write. I did a thirty minute workout just minutes before I started writing (more on that in another post, complete with pictures!), and I have to get up and bounce around to my music at times just to shed off some excess energy. It probably doesn’t help that I just had a bowl of ice cream, though.
Nevertheless, exercise will get you up in the morning, even if you just want to hit snooze and roll over.
#4 It’s not that bad
I’m sure you’ve heard before that exercise can be addictive, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll wave that nugget of information away and continue sitting on your ass, watching Jon Stewart (little known fact, Jon Stewart is considered an illegal drug by the FDA, and has been known to cause verbal Tourettes and minor seizures of the diaphragm). Now, after I lost my job at Petco, I was sitting at home doing just that every single day, and I can tell you, that is addictive stuff right there. I kept telling myself I wanted to continue biking, and even get better at running, but nothing was enough to motivate me. Well, one day I tried running. I had come across a running plan online that would start me slow and easy, and It just got more challenging every week, so I would start with little spurts of running for only a half an hour. Easy, right? Bring on the Endorphins!
All I felt was miserable, and I even cheated by walking the whole last fifteen minutes. The next four days I had sandpaper for muscles and chainsaws for bones, and I effectively said screw this! I let the pain deter me. The problem with the promise of addiction and happy times that comes with exercise is that it’s couched in a test of pain. Pass the test and continue with your exercise, and it’s like you’re on crack–sure, the downsides are extremely apparent when you’re sober, but you eventually wind up going right back to it, and the adrenaline, endorphin, and energy rush makes all the bad bits disappear.
When I started exercising again, I was confronted with the test, and I procrastinated for a few days after that, unsure of how to proceed. When eventually I bit the bullet and tried the exercises again–with a tiny bit of modification–the pain was tolerable, and I found I wanted to exercise longer. A miracle, good sir!
Pride, one of the seven deadly sins. Pride in yourself is intoxicating, and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a healthy dose of the good stuff when you’ve done something to genuinely improve yourself. If you’ve ever gone to do something with your friends or family that involves physical exertion, you’ll notice there’s always one person that starts flagging before the others, and they ultimately slow everyone down. Maybe it’s you who is always left behind in such cases. The embarrassment felt is multiplied when you’re around strangers and you’re the one keeping the group from moving on. (I often felt this way in swimming classes, I’m always the slowest in the water!)
The good news is that moderate exercise takes care of all that. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself up near the front of the group, tapping your foot at the person who decided to bite off more than they could chew and is now on the ground howling about their aching muscles and being spoon fed electrolytes by a fellow sufferer. With your new-found pride, you’ll leave in a huff, wander around in the forest for a while, and get lost, but refuse to admit you are. See, pride is a good thing!
#6 Your limits expand
Some of the best places in the world aren’t easily accessible by anything other than your own two feet, and they probably got checked off of your list right off the bat if it included more than four hours of walking or a two hour climb. Ever taken a jog down the beach at sunrise for an hour or two, long before anyone arrives? I haven’t, but I’d love to do it myself. Is there anything you wish you had done or seen, but you just didn’t feel you had it in you?
#7 Distract yourself from pre-travel restlessness
What do you do when everything has been planned that can be planned, you’re waiting for the perfect time to get those plane tickets, and it’s much much too early to pack, but you find yourself nitpicking your daypack anyways? Throw yourself into your exercise, push your limits, test out what it’s really like to hike twenty miles a day. Now is not the time to be lax about it, especially if you’re leaving in two months! Make sure you squeeze your exercise in during the most hectic days leading up to that final week at home as well, it might help you clear your head and give you an energy boost. Think of it this way, if you can’t do it at home even when stress piles up, how the hell are you going to do it on the road?
#8 Keep some semblance of discipline on the road
Backpackingmatt summed it up pretty nicely in his post, 7 Tips for Successful Long Term Travel;
“You’ll be less tempted to stay at the pub till the wee hours of the morning if you’ve got to run a couple miles in the morning.”
Your liver will thank you, and you’ll stay in shape even along the road!
#9 No regret
While you’re busy gulping down the remnants of a cultural discovery on the streets of Taiwan, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that most of it will be burned away in your disciplined exercise regimen the next day. Even though on some days your intestines have to perform some impressive displays of digestive jujitsu, at least you won’t be packing the pounds visiting every street vendor you set your eyes on.
#10 Leap tall buildings in a single bound!
Okay, so maybe this last one isn’t really a reason, but hopefully by now you’re thinking ahead, setting goals, and studying for the test of pain! Do you have any other reasons for boarding the buff boat to beefy town? I’d love to hear them!